- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

The mayor of Gaithersburg has decided the best approach to opening a day-laborer shelter for immigrant workers in the city is first to apologize to residents for excluding them in earlier plans, then vowing to work together.

“I want to apologize for making an error,” Mayor Sidney Katz told about 100 residents, city officials and laborers Tuesday. “What I was and still am trying to do is solve the concern in the community. I realize we did not go about solving that concern in the best way possible.”

Mr. Katz said he will ask the City Council on Monday to form an advisory committee, which would include residents, to find an appropriate location for the center and that the meetings be televised on a local cable channel.

For more than a year, he had met with other officials — including some from Montgomery County and the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church — to find an alternative to illegal immigrants and other day laborers acting offensively in public while waiting for work in the church’s parking lot.

The group agreed upon an empty building several blocks from the church. However, the plan was scrapped after the county withdrew its commitment and an outcry from residents in the historic district surrounding the church.

The Gaithersburg Police Department reports documenting complaints against laborers beginning about seven months ago.

The department’s Spanish-speaking officers have explained rules of etiquette to the laborers and have allowed them to wait for work until 9 a.m. A small number of workers who are not picked up for work cause problems, police said.

Prentiss Searles, a resident of the city’s Olde Towne area, hopes at least a temporary solution is reached quickly so the workers do not have to wait in the cold when winter arrives.

Officials at CASA of Maryland Inc., the advocacy group that would run the center, are optimistic an agreement will be reached soon.

“We feel … the vast majority of people in Gaithersburg are committed to opening a workers’ center and that a workers’ center is a humane and appropriate response to the community,” said Kim Propeack, the group’s director of community organizing and action.

Still, some residents and city officials say such a center would allow illegal aliens to “steal” jobs belonging to legal immigrants and unemployed citizens.

“You may very well be nice people. You may very well be hard-working,” said Brad Botwin, a resident of Derwood, about 10 minutes south of Gaithersburg. “But frankly, there are tens of millions of people trying to get into the United States. Why are we trying to assist people who’ve cut ahead in line?”

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